Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Sunday, June 28, 2009

An Interesting Take on Iran

So in a small ray of journalistic sunshine in the hurricane of Michael Jackson coverage, Fareed Zakaria was interviewing a former CIA field agent who specialized in working in the Middle East, Robert Baer. Baer was arguing that what we are seeing in Iran is a coup d'etat by the Revolutionary Guard. He's not the only one suggesting this. As evidence he pointed to the rapid and aggressive response by the Basij who are directly controlled by the Revolutionary Guard. He also pointed out that Ahmadinejad is a former officer in the Revolutionary Guard and has significant influence with its leadership. He had some other arguments but let's assume for the moment that this is what happened in June of 2009.

If this was essentially a military coup, then the proper comparison for the demonstrations in Iran right now is not Eastern Europe in 1989 but rather Poland in 1981. In Poland, the Communist party rule of the country was essentially replaced by martial law under the command of General Jaruzelski. Jaruzelski was a member of the party but his career was a military one, not a party one. His take over marked the effective end of Communist Party rule in Poland. Of course the Jaruzelski government took pains to maintain the impression of continued Communist rule and they maintained the military alliance with the USSR. But the Party no longer dominated. In the classes I took in college on Easter European nationalism and democratization, I heard/read that many of the last "true believers" in Communism in Poland became jaded and disillusioned at this point. It was the beginning of the end of Communism in that country.

The analogy in Iran could be that this is the end of Islamic Revolution. The mullahs are no longer in control. They have been replaced by a military clique that, while maintaining the outward appearance of the Islamic Republic, is essentially military rather than religious in character. Just as Jaruzelski's approach to government was that of a military dictator rather than a committed Party Boss. In Poland it took several years and one more crisis to really complete the downfall of communism. If this analogy is valid, it may take a similar degree of patience for the Iranians.


Pombat said...

Interesting comparison, and one I can believe actually.

Patience may not be all that's required though: latest I've seen, 2,000 people have been arrested (including eight British embassy staff), hundreds are missing, and at least 17 have been killed in protests.

Raised By Republicans said...

Those numbers are quite similar to what went down in Poland in '81. There were anywhere from 50-100 people killed/disappeared by the new regime when it took power and I've heard from Polish friends and Professors that a large number of people were arrested for years - including some who ended up being fixtures in the Solidarity Movement and the 1989 revolution.

The Law Talking Guy said...

The fact that there is no change of lead personnel would undercut this theory, though. The suggestion must be that Ahmadinejad sort of overthrew Khamenei, right? Or that some hidden unknown revolutionary guardmember is now really in charge? I'm not sure I see this.

USwest said...

Like, dah . . . of course it is a type of coup. Reports to this effect have been circulating around, but have been largely ignored, as usually because the media prefers to focus not just on Jackson, but on what they can see rather than on what lies underneath.

The question is which way will it go? I keep thinking of all the coups in Turkey where the military would overthrow governments that it deemed a threat to the republic (which probably wasn't always the case at all.) And most recently, there have been several plots uncovered in Turkey where the military, understanding it can't overtly overthrow the current conservative AK have gone underground to do so.

This has led me to consider the Kemalist Revolution in Turkey. I am no expert on this subject. But the situation in Iran has got me thinking about the relationship of religion and the state, yet again and how you redefine that relationship and how you get out from underneath a theocracy.

The situation in Turkey in 1923 was very different from Iran today in that it came right on the tail end of the fall of the Ottoman Empire. So one thing to consider is timing . . . a strict demarcation between eras makes the need, and thus pace of change more immediate. But consider that Ataturk made sure to establish the framework for a civic system BEFORE abolishing the Caliphate. He had all the republican institutions in place and he managed that despite a Caliphate. However, the continued existence of the Caliph created a power problem in that the state became bifurcated. The Caliph was on one side and the republican government was on the other, with the Caliph often performing the same duties as the state. This was undermining the authority of the Republic and thus, the people. There was not choice but to abolish the Caliph. How different is Iran now? It has all the institutions of republican government, but is overpowered by a theocratic framework. Can you really have a blend of the two or does one eventually dominate? And then, how do you return to balance? Is this just an organic, dynamic process that has to be constantly recalibrated?

RBR, you're the history buff. To what extent can you compare the Kemalist Revolution with Iran today if at all?

And another question, which is off topic, but interesting just the same, to what extent can you compare say a theocracy in Iran and a theocracy like the Vatican? I know that one is a full state and the other is not, really. But are the structures within the two organizations, the Church and the Iranian religious establishment similar and to what extent does that inform us about the potential failure or success of these types of institutions? I guess what I am trying to figure out is to what extent does a theocratic base have to change itself to survive in the age of republicanism Does the structure matter at all? Could the ayatollahs restructure in such a way as to be relevant while still letting democracy flourish? As I see it now, the Ayatollah's in Iran are an elite frightened if loosing their privileges and their heads. And I see a people with no real method of speaking their governing institutions without going to the streets. This is a situation ripe for violence.

Raised By Republicans said...

LTG, I think Baer was suggesting that the coup took place during Ahmedinejad's first term. At some point, Khameini became a figure head.

US West, I don't think this really compares with the Kemalist revolution yet. First,as you point out, Kemal Ataturk and his cohort were reacting to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following defeat in war. Also, Ataturk's movement was secular, modernist and more or less pro-western.

Ahmedinejad is claiming to be a better Islamic Revolutionary than Rafsanjani et al. It is possible that Ahmedinejad's successor could complete the cycle by doing what Ataturk did. It's also possible that Ahmedinejad will be deposed by a more complete revolution like Jarazelski was.

The Law Talking Guy said...

But if Khamenei were a figurehead, why wouldn't he be using this opportunity to reassert power by ousting Ahmadinejad rather than supporting him? He clearly has enough power to annul the election.

I'm not sure I can really follow this thread out. Why isn't this just a continuation of standard policy in the Islamic Republic where the people are allowed to vote so long as they voluntarily do what the Mullahs wish.

Raised By Republicans said...

That's a reasonable question, LTG. I think the premise that Khamenei feels that Ahmadinejad is a personal threat to him in some way. Khamenei is kind of a Hindenburg figure in this view perhaps. That's the point of being a figure head. He's still in place but for some reason incapable of acting with complete flexibility (i.e. incapable of challenging the Revolutionary Guard faction).

History Buff said...

I've been in Spain for 3 weeks, so I haven't been reading y'alls posts lately, so I went back to June to see if there was anything about Honduras. Not one word, How Come????

Pombat said...

Interesting article here, courtesy of The Age, suggesting that regime change in Iran has already happened.